The Town of Niagara through the War of 1812

The United States declared war on Britain on June 18, 1812 and struck the only British land on the continent: Canada. The Niagara frontier was challenged many times during the war.

The Battle of Queenston Heights (1836) by James B. DennisNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Thomas Jefferson said capturing Canada would be "a mere matter of marching". But between the over 5,000 trained soldiers in Canada before the war, and over 11,000 militiamen, Jefferson soon regretted his words. 

American Landing Place at Queenston (1869) by Benson J. LossingNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

October 13, 1812

One of the most famous battles during the war, the Battle of Queenston Heights, saw the Americans row across the Niagara River at Lewiston, NY to Queenston. Major-General Isaac Brock and his forces were woken in the early morning to this surprise strike. 

The Village of Queenston (1869) by Benson J. LossingNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

The first attack on British soil

 When the Americans landed at Queenston they were able to seize the redan where a cannon had been impeding the movement of American reinforcements across the Niagara River.

Brock's Hat, 1812, From the collection of: Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum
General Brock Leaving Niagara, From the collection of: Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum
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When Major-General Isaac Brock charged up the heights to try and recapture the gun position, he was fatally shot. Brock’s aide-de-camp, John Macdonell, continued the charge until he was wounded and later died. Reinforcements later arrived with Major-General Sheaffe from Fort George, including members of the Coloured Corps and 300 Native warriors led by John Norton and John Brant. They were able to recapture the heights by approaching out of sight from the Americans.

Portrait of John Norton, "A Pictorial Gallery from the Collection of Jerry H. Jouppien", 1800/1810, From the collection of: Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum
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John Norton and John Brant led a force of Six Nations and other Indigenous men into the fight at Queenston.  John Norton was of Cherokee descent and was adopted into the Mohawk Nation by Joseph Brant and John Brant was the son of Joseph Brant. They led fighters from Six Nations of the Grand River into key battles such as at Queenston Heights, Stoney Creek, and Chippawa. Indigenous people provided crucial scouting duties, front-line defence, and cover during British retreats. 

Fort George by Edward Walsh (1756-1832)Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Battle of Fort George

In 1813, the American Navy had the strongest squadron on Lake Ontario. In the early hours of May 25, 1813, the British awoke to hotshot and cannon fire raining down on Fort George and the town, an invasion was imminent. 

Battle of Fort George (1817/1817) by UnknownNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

On May 27, the  Americans made an amphibious attack and landed on the shore of Lake Ontario. After heavy casualties, the British eventually abandoned Fort George and withdrew toward Burlington Heights. The Americans occupied the town of Niagara until December 1813. 

Colonel Aeneas Shaw uniform coat, 1812, From the collection of: Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum
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Skirmish of Butler’s Farm July 8, 1813. When the British were retreating from the Battle of Fort George, medical supplies were buried at Butler’s Farm. When the Americans were occupying the town, the British went to retrieve these supplies and they were attacked by the Americans. Native Allies under Captain John Norton engaged the Americans and won the skirmish. Throughout July similar incidents occurred in Niagara.

Mouth of the Niagara River, Benson J. Lossing, 1869, From the collection of: Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum
Map of the Mouth of the Niagara River, Benson J. Lossing, 1869, From the collection of: Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum
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The American Army abandoned the Town of Niagara on December 10, 1813, and headed to Fort Niagara. With encouragement from American sympathizers, the destruction of the town was ordered. The townspeople were forced into the snowy streets as their homes burned. For his part in the burning of Niagara, General McClure was stripped of his command and dismissed from the U.S. Army.

Mississauga Point LighthouseNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Dominic and Mary Madden Henry, lighthouse keepers

The Lighthouse, located at Mississauga Point, was not destroyed during the war as it helped both sides navigate the Lake and River. During the Battle of Fort George, Mary Henry tended to injured soldiers, and when the town burned, she gave shelter to those in need.

Lighthouse plans (1909) by Gustavus NicollsNiagara-on-the-Lake Museum

The first lighthouse on the Great Lakes

This lighthouse was built in 1804 by the military masons of the 49th Regiment of Foot. It was then dismantled in 1814 when members of the Coloured Corps began the construction of Fort Mississauga.

Fort Niagara from Fort George, Benson J. Lossing, 1869, From the collection of: Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum
View of Fort Niagara., John Herbert Caddy, 1865/1865, From the collection of: Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum
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In retaliation for burning the Town, over 500 British soldiers captured Fort Niagara on December 19, 1813. They secured military supplies, clothing, and blankets. More British support came the next day. They eventually headed south, toward Lewiston, burning villages and towns all along the American side of the Niagara River, including Buffalo.

St. Davids, Original Source: From the Collection of John and Judith Sayers
St. Davids from the Niagara Escarpment, ca. 1910, From the collection of: Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum
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When Fort Erie was captured by the Americans, the Battle of Chippawa ensued and caused the British to retreat to Fort George. The Americans followed and camped at Queenston Heights. When the American forces became restless, they began looting nearby farms and on July 18, 1814, some members of the American militia marched into St. Davids to loot and burn the village.

Treaty of Ghent signature page (1814-12-25)Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

Ending a conflict

American troops pulled back after their loss at Lundy's Lane in 1814, and the last altercation on British soil was at Cook's Mills. The war ended when the Treaty of Ghent was negotiated on December 24, 1814. The war essentially ended in a stalemate. 

General Brock's Monument Above Queenston by William Henry Bartlett (1809-1854)Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum

By 1816, the Town of Niagara had begun rebuilding.

Businesses were encouraged to move farther away from Fort Niagara and out of cannonball range. Owners settled on Queen Street to stay close to the river and Butler’s Barracks was also reconstructed farther inland.  

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